The Jerusalem Council and Gentile Believers (Acts 15)

Last week we left off with Paul and Barnabas in Antioch (Syria). We read about how God had opened a “door of faith” to the Gentiles.

    Now when they had come and gathered the church together, they reported all that God had done with them, and that He had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles. ~Acts 14:27

I love that expression! Remember it was Luke that wrote the book of Acts, but the Apostle and author Paul uses the expression elsewhere – each time related to the opportunity to preach:

    For a great and effective door has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.
    ~1 Corinthians 16:9

    Furthermore, when I came to Troas to preach Christ’s gospel, and a door was opened to me by The Lord. ~2 Corinthians 2:12

    Continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving; meanwhile praying also for us, that God would open to us a door for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in chains. ~Colossians 4:2-3

What doors are open for you? For me? As I walk with Jesus every day and doors open that give me an opportunity to tell someone about Jesus, do I walk through the door in faith?

The Apostle John writes about a door, this one is the door of our heart that Jesus is knocking on:

    Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. ~Revelation 3:20

From David Guzik: “Jesus gives….The Great Invitation. He knocks at the door, asking entry to come and dine with us, in the sense of sharing warm, intimate time. It only happens as we respond to His knock, but the promise is made to all: If anyone hears my voice. The idea of Jesus at the door applies to the sinner and to the saint just the same. Jesus wants to come in to us, and dine with us, in the sense of having a deep, intimate relationship.”

Now – keeping in mind the idea of open doors – let’s look at Acts 15.

    Vs 1-2 And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” Therefore, when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and dispute with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should go up to Jerusalem, to the apostles and elders, about this question.

Some in the church were teaching that the Gentiles needed to follow strict Jewish law, (or the old covenant) and also Old Testament law. Do you remember that Peter dealt with this same issue earlier in Acts chapter 10 (Peter’s Vision, a Roman Centurion, and Preaching to the Gentiles).

We know without question that Jesus came to save all mankind:

    For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. ~Romans 1:16

Jesus even teaches that the Gospel should be preached to the Gentiles that they would be made disciples:

    And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen. ~Matthew 28:18-20

And Paul assures us that in Jesus the Gentiles have their hope and salvation:

    And that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy, as it is written: “For this reason I will confess to You among the Gentiles, And sing to Your name.” And again he says: “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with His people!” And again: “Praise the LORD, all you Gentiles! Laud Him, all you peoples!” And again, Isaiah says: “There shall be a root of Jesse; And He who shall rise to reign over the Gentiles, In Him the Gentiles shall hope.”
    ~Romans 15:9-12

So the question they’ll look at is: Should Gentiles be required to obey the Old Testament laws?

    Vs 3 So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through Phoenicia and Samaria, describing the conversion of the Gentiles; and they caused great joy to all the brethren.

As they travel they tell of what God is doing in their ministry, and believers are overjoyed. I love hearing what God is doing in ministry, and it does bring us joy! It strengthens our faith as well.

    Vs 4-5 And when they had come to Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders; and they reported all things that God had done with them. But some of the sect of the Pharisees who believed rose up, saying, “It is necessary to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.”

Notice that these Pharisees are believers, so they are saved, but they are hanging on to the Old Testament law thinking it is a requirement to do so.

    Vs 6-11 Now the apostles and elders came together to consider this matter. And when there had been much dispute, Peter rose up and said to them: “Men and brethren, you know that a good while ago God chose among us, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. So God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us, and made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith.
    Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they.”

In his response, Peter says that:

God chose the teachers of the Gospel.
“God chose among us, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe”.

God knows the hearts of people and gave the Gentiles the Holy Spirit just as He did to the Jews.
“God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us”.

God doesn’t separate Jews and Gentiles when it comes to the Law or the Gospel.
“God….made no distinction between us and them.”

God cleanses the Gentiles when they believe in Jesus as their Savior just like He cleanses the Jews when they believe.
The verse says He is “purifying their hearts by faith.”

He finishes by saying:
“We believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they.”

Paul teaches on this same issue in Romans:

    What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness of faith; but Israel, pursuing the law of righteousness, has not attained to the law of righteousness.
    Why? Because they did not seek it by faith, but as it were, by the works of the law.
    For they stumbled at that stumbling stone. As it is written: “Behold, I lay in Zion a stumbling stone and rock of offense, And whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.”
    ~Romans 9:30-33

When Paul teaches this in Romans, he tells us that the Gentiles “pursue righteousness” by faith and they acquire righteousness. The Jews choose to “pursue righteousness” by the law and they don’t receive righteousness.

    Vs 12-21 Then all the multitude kept silent and listened to Barnabas and Paul declaring how many miracles and wonders God had worked through them among the Gentiles. And after they had become silent, James answered, saying, “Men and brethren, listen to me: Simon (Peter) has declared how God at the first visited the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His name. And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written: ‘After this I will return And will rebuild the tabernacle of David, which has fallen down; I will rebuild its ruins, And I will set it up; so that the rest of mankind may seek the LORD, Even all the Gentiles who are called by My name, Says the LORD who does all these things.’
    Known to God from eternity are all His works.
    Therefore I judge that we should not trouble those from among the Gentiles who are turning to God, but that we write to them to abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from things strangled, and from blood.
    For Moses has had throughout many generations those who preach him in every city, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath.”

Barnabas and Paul remind them that God is doing His work through their ministry among the Gentiles. Then James jumps into the discussion and reminds them about Peter’s earlier teaching, and he quotes Old Testament scripture that points to the salvation of Gentiles – “that the rest of mankind may seek the LORD, Even all the Gentiles who are called by My name”.

    Vs 22-29 Then it pleased the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas, namely, Judas who was also named Barsabas, and Silas, leading men among the brethren.
    They wrote this letter by them: The apostles, the elders, and the brethren, To the brethren who are of the Gentiles in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia: Greetings.
    Since we have heard that some who went out from us have troubled you with words, unsettling your souls, saying, “You must be circumcised and keep the law”—to whom we gave no such commandment — it seemed good to us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
    We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who will also report the same things by word of mouth.
    For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.

The council of church leaders now sends out Paul and Barnabas along with two other brothers – Judas and Silas – that can also testify of the council’s decision. As the group leaves for Anticoh, the council sends them with a letter announcing their decision that they don’t need to obey the rituals of Old Testament law. They do, however, need to be avoid certain things that would cause division among the Jews and Gentiles. These things are: eating food offered to idols, eating meat with blood in it, and eating animals that had been strangled (the blood would still be in the animal). These believers also live in a very immoral culture and time, so they remind them also to refrain from sexual impurity.

Remember our earlier discussion about open doors? Here the Apostles had to make some decisions about what to do.

In making their choices, they looked at scripture in depth. These guys knew God’s Word and were committed to following His will, their hearts sought to glorify Him, and to further His kingdom. They chose to follow God’s word in their ministry and in their teaching. In doing so, God opened wide the door to the Gentiles. Because they followed the teaching of God’s word from the Old Testament, the Word as spoken by Jesus, and the Word as given to them by God’s Holy Spirit, we have the complete Bible.

What is God asking you to do? What is He asking me to do? If there is a door open to us, walk through it in faith. Trust that God will provide.

If you’ve never opened the door to faith in Jesus, we all have that choice to make and no one can make it for you or for me. It’s a life or death choice to make. Eternity in heaven or eternity in hell. We all choose one place or the other. Won’t you choose life?

See also: Are You a Savoury Seasoning or De-Icer?

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10 thoughts on “The Jerusalem Council and Gentile Believers (Acts 15)

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  3. “Therefore I judge that we should not trouble those from among the Gentiles who are turning to God, but that we write to them to abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from things strangled, and from blood.
    For Moses has had throughout many generations those who preach him in every city, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath.”

    Interesting passage. Implies food laws and studying the Law of Moses for Gentiles who were new to the faith. Paul, who followed the Law of Moses, was falsely accused of teaching Jews not to follow the Law (Acts 21: 17-24).

    Peter said that Paul’s letters are difficult to understand. Amen to that. One of the difficulties is trying to decipher the meaning of “Law.” When is Paul talking about the Law of Moses and when is he talking about the law of sin and death and so on?

    Paul spoke of the one new man–Jew and Gentile one in Messiah. Both saved by grace alone but called to do good works. I think the issue that Paul was dealing with was that “certain Jews” were teaching that salvation is by works, not grace. Paul made it clear that salvation is through grace. Following the Ten Commandments and good works are the result of salvation. The Commandments are written on our hearts when we repent and become followers of Christ(Jeremiah 31: 31-33; Hebrews 10: 16-17; 2 Corinthians 3: 2-3).

  4. Pingback: Day 321: Acts 9-12; Paul Converted, Gospel to the Gentiles | Overisel Reformed Church

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